Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Headphones

I mentioned in an earlier post that despite being raised a musician, I didn't get into music until about 9th grade.  As expected, I didn't get serious about my headphones until I got more serious about music.  In my freshman year of high school, I voiced my desire for a pair of studio headphones because I found earbuds to be uncomfortable and all of the headphones that came with various old music playback devices weren't up to par.

My 30mm Sonys left to right: V150, Giiq, and ZX300

During the winter of 2009, my parents gave me my first pair of legitimate headphones, some black Sony MDR-V150s.  These were the best things that ever happened to my young years.  The six-foot cord was very sturdy and the earpads were comfortably soft.  I loved these things to death and despite many reviews that said these were flimsy (and they are), mine kept on truckin'.  They cracked a little bit on the sides of the headband and I super glued tiny bits of metal on to try to stop the cracking.  I'm not sure if that helped, but they didn't get worse in the first two years of heavy use.  As freshman in high school, I thought the bass-heavy headphones were all I ever needed but I can now tell that the high-end frequency response is actually pretty lousy and the bass is too punchy.  I still pick these up and let'em sing every once in a while in a fit of nostalgia.

The two others in the photo above are not as significant to me.  Dad found them on sale even though I didn't need more headphones.  The Giiq ones have too much character and don't match my outfits, so I don't bring them out even though they sound more balanced than the V150s.  The red ZX300 headphones are essentially modernized V150s; they sound the same but have rotating (but not reversing) ear cups for added portability.  They are built a little stronger but are not as comfortable.

Knock-off Sony MDR-V700 and MDR-V150 for size comparison

Around maybe November of 2010, I was pretty into DJing and mixing music but didn't have the proper equipment.  I was running a free demo software on my laptop and I got a pair of knock-off Sony MDR-V700 headphones for a fifth of the real price because I thought "When am I going to drop $150 for a pair of headphones anytime soon?" Well, they did sound better than the V150s at least but broke four months later where the headband is expandable.  I took good are of these as always, but you get what you pay for.

I completely tore them apart and rebuilt them into a suspended headband design.  I used coat hangers and other various pieces of scrap I had lying around and then drilled new holes in the cups for the wire to come out.  It was a pain soldering the wire back in; our soldering iron is cheap and doesn't get hot enough.  The headband was even adjustable with the Velcro that is visible in the photo.  They were pretty comfortable, just not very portable or versatile.

The following year, I took the V700s apart again and made it so the ear cups could rotate and the headband could slide to adjust like normal.  I was about to machine all of the parts out of good scrap aluminum in the high school robotics shop but I ran out of time after making just one thing on the lathe.  The sliding headband sides were made of scrap aluminum left behind by contractors who gave our house new windows. It would have worked great in theory, but the materials I had at my disposal were just not refined enough.  These aren't that comfortable to wear, even with the denim headband sleeve that my mom and I made.  They don't even sound that great anyway, so I barely even use them anymore.

My second pair: Sennheiser HD202, modifications shown

In the winter of 2010, my parents gave me a pair of Sennheiser HD202s.  The treble response was way too harsh for me since I was used to my smooth-sounding Sonys but I noticed that the bass on these headphones was more suited to electronic music.  I really started using them more when junior year started and I actually brought these to and from school daily.  These 202s started out having a 10-foot long, double sided cord that really got in the way.  The cord itself was really weak and nothing like the tough Sony cords so to prevent further damage, I flipped the earcups upside down, ran the two sides through the headband cushion, and brought it back down on the side.  I essentially turned the annoying double-sided cord into a single-sided one while only reducing cable length by about a foot so I still have freedom when I need it.  I also put some springs on either end of the cable, as is visible in the two photos above, to act as tension relief and my modifications have held up for what is now two years.

Two Sennheisers pictured, clamped on the turret of one of the two two-person "tank" costumes that my friends and I made to celebrate our last Halloween together.  
Two pairs of people in two tanks with hatches for the head and arms.  That was fun.  

One of my friends asked my suggestion for a good, inexpensive pair of headphones in the last year of high school and since the HD202s were dropped from production, the 203s were the closest option.  My friend also asked me to give his the same treatment that I gave mine, except I didn't have any fitting springs left.  He says my modifications have stayed together.

Sony MDR-V6

The Sony V6s are likely the best headphones I will have for a long time.  They replaced the Sennheisers as my all-around workhorses the moment I got them in mid-senior year.  Up until recently, it been the staple of professional radio and music studios alongside its "professional" MDR-7506 sibling since their introduction in 1985.  They are known for having one of the flattest frequency curves of any headphones, making them ideal for monitoring tracks in detail.  I'm sure you can find lots of different publications about these headphones online.  These headphones don't put out much bass, but to me, the sound is the most balanced of all my other headphones.  The trebles are really clear and I've outgrown the desire for insane bass, anyway.  I'd suggest either the V6 or 7506 for anyone who is looking for great ~$100 headphones that are more than worth their price.  Production of these has just recently ended, although the 7506 is still being made.  I know that technology is getting better and less expensive so soon, these two will no longer be seen as the best for their price.  New competitors, notably the Audio Technica ATH-M50, have forced Sony to modernize its lineup.

These headphones are known to be incredibly durable, although most people have found that the pleather ear pads only last a few months.  I managed to stretch mine to six months while undergoing daily use.  As many people suggested, I used Beyerdynamic DT-250 velour ear pad replacements.  I heard they do change the sound quality a little bit, softening the treble and deepening the bass, but I couldn't tell.  All I know is that they are a bit firmer and the hole is a bit smaller, but are still very comfortable.  I've been using these pads for about a year now and they show no signs of wear.  I love these headphones and they'll probably serve as my home/portable/work headphones for a long time.